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Tom Steyer and the link between hate groups and climate denial

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This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Before Tom Steyer was a high-profile figure calling for the president’s impeachment, before the attacks directed at him escalated from name-calling to threats and violence, and before the president demeaned him as a “crazed & stumbling lunatic,” the Democratic donor was familiar with being a target for the extreme right because of his prominent work in climate change advocacy.

Last week, Steyer learned he was the intended recipient of one of the 13 bombs mailed to prominent critics of President Donald Trump. It was a violent escalation of attacks on the billionaire hedge fund manager and philanthropist from those that I had observed early in 2015. At that time, he surpassed Al Gore as the most hated environmentalist in conservative America after spending millions advancing pro-climate candidates in the midterms.

In the days after the attempted bombing, Trump lashed out at Steyer for a critical interview he had with CNN. Then came the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which sharpened the national conversation about the connection between extreme rhetoric and violent actions. Republican defenders of Trump have dismissed the relationship, although there has been a surge in racist and anti-Semitic attacks since he took office.

The link between hate groups and climate denial is complex and anecdotal at best, with little research examining the overlap between the two. But there is enough anecdotal experience to prompt prominent figures who study and advance science and policy to see a connection. In an interview with Mother Jones, Steyer said he sees the intolerance and hyperpartisanship that has marked the GOP as fundamentally connected with the party’s “willingness to directly lie” on climate change science.

“Climate change was really one of the seminal points for the Republicans because they decided they could straight-up lie,” he said in a phone interview. “When you look at the kind of violent and dehumanizing rhetoric that the president has indulged in, it’s entirely consistent with the idea that there is no cost to lying, there is no cost to really attacking the basic interest of the American people. So I think climate was the template.”

These questions about tensions concerning the climate change debate are not as well understood or explicitly drawn as the immigration debate, where George Soros is charged in coded language with pulling all the strings in a vast global conspiracy, as the New York Times reported, to “undermine the established order and a proponent of diluting the white, Christian nature of their societies through immigration.”

But the right’s denial of climate change science nonetheless repeats many of the same patterns that have appeared in other extremist targets, from guns to immigration to abortion. These patterns include the appropriation of Nazi or anti-Semitic imagery, the demonization of funders and prominent advocates, and the distortion of the terms of the debate. Climate change has become another flashpoint for irrational, hateful, sometimes violent rhetoric, and even personal attacks on people who have risen to some prominence as scientists, funders, and advocates.

Stephan Lewandowsky, a University of Bristol cognitive scientist who studies science denial, notes how the virulently anti-government message that has long dominated climate denial discourse shares common themes with people who believe in conspiracy theories writ large. “Science as well as respect for others’ religions or ethnicity are considered establishment norms, just like truth-telling, and hence the people who support (and are incited by) Donald Trump are likely to reject all of those norms,” Lewandowsky tells Mother Jones, “which again would link science denial, anti-Semitism, and conspiracy theories as a cluster or related phenomena.”

The appropriation of particular labels, often involving Nazis, has also appeared in environmental debates. Self-described climate change skeptics have rejected being called “deniers,” arguing, as the conservative think tank figure and Trump EPA transition official Myron Ebell has, that the label is meant to tie “some people to Holocaust denial.” But the skeptic side has deployed an even more direct appropriation of Holocaust imagery.

In 2014, University of Alabama-Huntsville meteorologist Roy Spencer suggested on his blog that the best defense against the label “denier” would be to call those who were concerned with rising temperatures “global warming Nazis.” He even used an image of a swatsika on the post to illustrate his point, sparking a flurry of news coverage. His suggestion drew condemnation from the Anti Defamation League Southeast chapter.

In another incident, while talking to a gathering of oil and gas representatives in March, Representative Clay Higgins, a Louisiana Republican, casually and repeatedly referenced the “Three Percenters,” a movement linked to violent white supremacy that sprung up after Obama’s election, taking its name from the myth that 3 percent of colonists were behind the American Revolution. “You, ladies and gentlemen, are the Three Percenters of the modern era,” he said in remarks first reported by DeSmog Blog, “where wars are fought with monies and strategies and energy.”

Climate change denial extends across a spectrum, ranging from arguments against solutions, to assertions that scientific findings have been exaggerated, but they all tend to return to a central point: Blaming a small number of alarmists for perpetuating large-scale fraud that has convinced thousands of scientists and countries to devote billions of dollars to combating a myth that the planet is warming. The climate-denial world has an even more tightly knit web of industry-connected groups, shown for decades to undermine the science out of self- preservation and profit. Organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the more far-flung Heartland Institute work to provide a patina of intellectual legitimacy for the same talking points that wind up on Fox News — and on social media.

Though the science itself is nonpartisan, the belief or disbelief in climate change is not, embodying many of the establishment norms that large swaths of the GOP have come to reject, from accepting science to embracing global cooperation as a solution to complex problems. In the same way that the right has transformed Steyer and Soros into all-powerful villains of the left, some climate scientists have long been targets of similar abuse.

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The small world of climate skeptics, who often tend to be older, white, and male, has responded to the mailed bombs with a similar kind of denial they show on the science. Steve Milloy, a member of Trump’s EPA transition team who rejects climate science on his JunkScience blog, suggested the bomb threats were a false flag. “Having a fake bomb addressed to you is the new Democrat status symbol,” he tweeted. E&E News caught a number of prominent climate skeptics advancing a similar line.

“When it comes to climate denial, the No. 1 scientist who is accused of pretty much everything that you can possibly be accused of is Mike Mann, who is accused of single-handedly getting the world’s governments to commit billions of dollars to this hoax,” Lewandowsky says. “[It] is entirely consistent with what conspiracy theorists always do, which is to say they identify a few people who are targets. And then they say they are so powerful that everything in the world is driven through these few.”

Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann is familiar with the phenomenon, having been the subject of decades of attacks that reached a critical point when climate scientists’ emails were hacked and dumped on the web in 2009, feeding a media frenzy that gave undue weight to conspiracy theories. Around that time he was named alongside other experts on a neo-Nazi website, Stormfront.

“The same hatred and conspiratorial ideation that is that the center of Trumpism also underlies the poisonous atmosphere that pervades the public discourse when it come to the issue of climate change,” Mann wrote in an email. He has described the harassment he faced in more detail in his book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, explaining an envelope of white powder he received and the flood of hate mail and death threats charging him with orchestrating a global hoax.

NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt has also long been on the receiving end of both anti-Semitic and climate change denier hate mail and emails, sharing some of his experiences on his Twitter feed. Social media has amplified and provided a platform for toxic harassment, but “I’m not seeing a commensurate rise in climate denial,” he wrote in an email. “If anything it’s the other way: the denialist positions in prominent speakers are moving towards acceptance of the science — not all the way of course — while still pushing back on solutions. And the out-and-out denial is not getting the audience it did.”

Katharine Hayhoe, a Texas Tech climate scientist and self-identified evangelical Christian, often invokes her faith in explaining the need to act to slow down the progress of global warming. Often prominent deniers invoke their faith to advance fossil-fuel-friendly talking points — think Scott Pruitt, who invoked God to justify burning fossil fuels. Hayhoe, who also finds herself facing harassment for her work, draws on her religion to make a moral case to act on the scientific evidence, not bury one’s head in the ground. A scientist alarmed by the impacts of climate change, she has also observed that the anger surrounding the climate debate may have its roots in similar impulses present in other toxic debates. “I think that right now we’re facing a time of tremendous change in race, gender, socioeconomic status, and privilege. It’s especially frightening if you feel you’re going to lose from the change.”

That fear of change and uncertainty, Hayhoe thinks, is connected to the anger. Replacing coal, oil, and gas, which we’ve used for hundreds of years, with solar panels and wind turbines, is still another example of the unpredictability inherent in change.

“I think we often tend to treat these issues as all separate issues,” she says. “Rejection of climate change and harassment of scientists is a package. It’s not an issue that stands by itself. It goes along with symbols of change, racial issues and gender issues and political.”

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Tom Steyer and the link between hate groups and climate denial

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The Big Ones – Lucy Jones


The Big Ones

How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us (and What We Can Do About Them)

Lucy Jones

Genre: Nature

Price: $13.99

Expected Publish Date: April 17, 2018

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

By the world-renowned seismologist, a riveting history of natural disasters, their impact on our culture, and new ways of thinking about the ones to come Earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, volcanoes–they stem from the same forces that give our planet life. Earthquakes give us natural springs; volcanoes produce fertile soil. It is only when these forces exceed our ability to withstand them that they become disasters. Together they have shaped our cities and their architecture; elevated leaders and toppled governments; influenced the way we think, feel, fight, unite, and pray. The history of natural disasters is a history of ourselves. In The Big Ones , leading seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones offers a bracing look at some of the world's greatest natural disasters, whose reverberations we continue to feel today. At Pompeii, Jones explores how a volcanic eruption in the first century AD challenged prevailing views of religion. She examines the California floods of 1862 and the limits of human memory. And she probes more recent events–such as the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 and the American hurricanes of 2017–to illustrate the potential for globalization to humanize and heal. With population in hazardous regions growing and temperatures around the world rising, the impacts of natural disasters are greater than ever before. The Big Ones is more than just a work of history or science; it is a call to action. Natural hazards are inevitable; human catastrophes are not. With this energizing and exhaustively researched book, Dr. Jones offers a look at our past, readying us to face down the Big Ones in our future.

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The Big Ones – Lucy Jones

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Oil companies bid on just 1 percent of available plots at America’s largest offshore lease sale

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in U.S. history, which included all available areas in the Gulf of Mexico, garnered only tepid interest from oil and gas companies on Wednesday. Industry and government representatives called the results encouraging and consistent. Critics deemed it an “embarrassing flop.”

The sale was in the spotlight amidst the Trump administration’s push to expand drilling in federal waters, and President Trump’s repeated commitments to “energy dominance.” It was considered a test of the industry’s appetite, and the modest bids that resulted are seen as a setback to the government’s plans of stimulating investment in the gulf. Trump’s efforts to cut environmental regulations and increase offshore oil drilling doesn’t just spell trouble for climate change: The fire sales are lowering the price, and taxpayers lose out as oil companies buy drilling leases at a fraction of the normal cost.

A 77.3 million acre patch of the ocean, about the size of New Mexico, was on the auction block, including plots offshore of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and a small part of Florida. (The majority of waters off the coast of Florida have been protected from drilling in the past, though it’s unclear if that will continue in the future.) The Bureau of Energy Ocean Management received 159 bids from 33 companies, with the top bids totaling $124.8 million.

Bids must be reviewed before they are finalized, but the preliminary results are similar to a slightly smaller region-wide sale in the Gulf of Mexico last year. That sale offered about 1 million fewer acres and generated about $121.1 million in winning bids. BOEM regional director Mike Celata pointed to the higher number of bids in this sale compared to the last (159 versus 99 bids) as a positive sign. “You are definitely seeing an increase in interest,” he said in a press call after the sale. “You see continued, consistent investment in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Earlier this month, Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called Wednesday’s sale a “bellwether” for future offshore energy production. If that’s true, Wednesday’s sale might signal rough waters ahead.

Of the 77.3 million acres available Wednesday, just over 800,000 acres — or 1 percent — received bids. And when a tract of land did get bid on, the oil companies didn’t need to compete. More than 90 percent of the tracts of land leased on Wednesday had only one bid. Over the past 20 years, more than three-quarters of the leases awarded in the Gulf of Mexico — 76.6 percent — were awarded on the basis of single bids, the Project on Government Oversight reported earlier this year. Adjusting for inflation, the average price paid per acre in each Gulf of Mexico auction has declined by 95.7 percent, dropping from $9,068 to $391, the report also found.

While sales are not final, the average winning bid price from this week’s sale was $153 per acre, compared to $238 per acre in last year’s Gulf of Mexico sale. “The Trump Administration’s bargain basement fire sales of America’s oceans and public lands to the oil and gas industry are an embarrassing and fiscally irresponsible failure,” the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, said in a statement, calling the sale an “embarrassing flop.”

Major companies like BP, Chevron, and Shell all placed several bids. Money received from the leases are directed to the U.S. Treasury, Gulf Coast states, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund and Historic Preservation Fund. Lease terms stipulate that winning bidders explore and drill “in an environmentally sound and safe manner.” (If you want more details, check out BOEM’s flowchart of approval steps from sale to drilling.) “Once that process is done, then they can begin punching holes in the ground,” John Filostrat, BOEM director of public affairs, said in an interview with Mother Jones.

BOEM has imposed rental fees that escalate over time to encourage “faster exploration and development” of leases. The government also receives a royalty payment — a percent of production — once the companies start collecting oil or gas. Recently, BOEM cut the royalty rate for shallow water leases by a third (18.75 percent to 12.5 percent) to try to spark more interest. “They are reducing the return for the tax payer,” Raleigh Hoke, campaign director for the Gulf Restoration Network, says.

The Trump administration also has a new offshore energy plan in the works that would open up almost all of the continental shelf for drilling leases in 2019-2024. After a public comment period later this year, the final program is expected next year. Some analysts have predicted that oil companies’ response to the new plan will be slow.

Under pressure from energy companies, the administration recently rolled back offshore drilling safety measures established after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. “It’s crazy,” Hoke says, “to put all these lease blocks up for sale while simultaneously weakening safety regulations, putting workers at risk, and potential opening the door to another catastrophe.”


Oil companies bid on just 1 percent of available plots at America’s largest offshore lease sale

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Trump administration to replace Clean Power Plan with ‘dirty power plan’

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

President Donald Trump claimed in September that he did away with the Clean Power Plan, one of the Obama administration’s most ambitious efforts for tackling climate change. The plan was the first to set a limit on carbon pollution from existing power plants. Dispensing with the regulation, Trump told a rally in Alabama, was simple as, “boom, gone.”

Of course the reality is more complicated. Because the Clean Power Plan is a finalized regulation from the EPA, the agency also has to put forward its justification for repealing it. During an appearance on Monday at the coal-mining town of Hazard, Kentucky, administrator Scott Pruitt announced his plans to sign the draft proposal to repeal the 2015 climate rule.

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“The war on coal is over,” Pruitt said. “Tomorrow in Washington, D.C., I will be signing a proposed rule to roll back the Clean Power Plan. No better place to make that announcement than Hazard, Kentucky.”

The Clean Power Plan was crafted to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants 32 percent by 2030, by having states devise their own proposals for creating a pollution-cutting mix of renewables, gas, nuclear, and energy efficiency. But the Supreme Court stayed the rule in 2015, so its implementation stalled while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard the case brought by 26 states and coal companies like Murray Energy, which is owned by Trump donor Bob Murray. So far, the court hasn’t ruled, waiting to see what the Trump administration does next.

Another wrinkle is that the Trump administration eventually has to do something because it technically can’t ignore the EPA’s determination that greenhouse gases endanger public health, a finding compelled by a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2007. If they do nothing, they still risk lawsuits for not enforcing the Clean Air Act.

As I reported in August:

Whatever the administration decides, it will need to publish a written justification, which will be scrutinized by environmental groups in a likely lawsuit on the decision. The administration faces a similar quandary that plagued the GOP during the health care fight: Repeal the Clean Power Plan outright, or replace it with a shell of a rule?

According to a leaked draft of the EPA’s proposal, the Trump administration is choosing the first option — but with a twist. The 43-page document lays out the reasoning for repealing the rule by stressing the costs of implementation without factoring in the benefits from air pollution reduction and its contribution to combating climate change. The public is also invited to comment on alternatives for replacing it, without the EPA proposing any replacement of its own.

Janet McCabe, former head of the EPA office of air and radiation, explained that seeking input before even proposing a replacement “is not a legally necessary step.” Agencies use this step “sometimes to seek broad input before they put their own thoughts down into a proposal, which necessarily signals a particular policy and legal direction.”

A former EPA attorney that helped craft the Clean Power Plan told Mother Jones that the agency’s invitation to the public to comment is actually its own stalling tactic. The extra step pushes back the EPA’s regulatory timeline for nine months, at least. The reason the status quo appeals to the administration’s coal allies is that the implementation of the Clean Power Plan was delayed by the Supreme Court while current legal challenges played out. The coal industry only gains by the EPA delaying a replacement climate regulation, because the longer it’s put off, the longer it can pollute without limit. By stalling, Pruitt kicks the can down the road, by betting that the status quo of no rule in place is better than a replacement.

“Pruitt doesn’t believe in this stuff, so he’s actually in a paradoxical position,” says Joe Goffman, the former EPA attorney who is now at Harvard Law School’s environmental program. “If they do propose a replacement for the Clean Power Plan, what he’ll be doing is putting his signature on the proposal which will require to some extent power plants to address their carbon emissions.”

Nothing Pruitt is proposing now changes the underlying legal and scientific reasoning for why the EPA needs to do something on carbon emissions from the coal sector. Natural Resource Defense Council’s Climate and Clean Air Director David Doniger says the administration’s strategy is basically “replacing the Clean Power Plan with a dirty power plan.”

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Trump administration to replace Clean Power Plan with ‘dirty power plan’

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Researchers took on Exxon’s dare to prove it misled the public about climate change

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Two years ago, Inside Climate News and L.A. Times investigations found that while ExxonMobil internally acknowledged that climate change is human-made and serious, it publicly manufactured doubt about the science. Exxon has been trying unsuccessfully to smother this slow-burning PR crisis ever since, arguing the findings were “deliberately cherry picked statements.” But the company’s problems have grown to include probes of its business practices by the New York and Massachusetts attorneys general and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Now, science historian Naomi Oreskes and Harvard researcher Geoffrey Supran have published the first peer-reviewed, comprehensive analysis of Exxon’s climate communications that adds more heft to these charges. Exxon dared the public to “read all of these documents and make up your own mind,” in a company blog post in 2015. The new paper, “Assessing ExxonMobil’s Climate Change Communications,” in the journal Environmental Research Letters, takes up the challenge. Oreskes and Supran systematically analyze nearly 40 years of Exxon’s scientific research, reports, internal documents, and advertisements, and find a deep disconnect between how the company directly communicated climate change and its internal memos and scientific studies.

“The issue of taking things out of context or cherry-picking data is an important one, and one all historians and journalists deal with,” Oreskes tells Mother Jones. “When ExxonMobil accuses journalists of cherry-picking, there is a way we can address that. There are analyses we can do to avoid these issues. Well, if you think the LA Times is cherry-picking [examples], we’ll look at all of them. Nobody can say we are selecting things out of context.”

Their content analysis examines how 187 company documents treated climate change from 1977 through 2014. Researchers found that of the documents that address the causes of climate change, 83 percent of its peer-reviewed scientific literature and 80 percent of its internal documents said it was real and human-made, while the opposite was true of the ads. The researchers analyzed ads published in the New York Times between 1989 and 2004. In those ads, 81 percent expressed doubt about the scientific consensus, tending to emphasize the “uncertainty” and “knowledge gap,” while just 12 percent affirmed the science.

The same pattern holds for how Exxon has addressed the seriousness of the consequences of climate change. Downplaying the impacts is another tactic climate deniers tend to use to call for more delays in implementing policies that curb fossil fuel use. Sixty percent of Exxon’s peer-reviewed papers and 53 percent of its internal documents acknowledge serious impacts — a 1982 internal document lists flooding and sea-level rise and a 2002 paper lists coral reef bleaching and the disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet among them — but Exxon’s ads were more likely to claim, “The sky is not falling.”

Oreskes and Supran write that Exxon “contributed quietly to the science and loudly to raising doubts about it.”

This distinction is important, argues Supran. “Exxon’s response to the allegations from journalists and investigators was a kind of gloss or straw man,” he says. “They were contributing to climate science. The problem was the company still had a much louder doubt-promoting position in public. It was the discrepancy that confused people.”

Exxon did not return a request for comment on the study before publication, but in the past it has dismissed similar criticisms by pointing to its decades of promoting climate science research, which the paper does not dispute.

Of course, Exxon’s media strategy has shifted over time, and the company adopted a more uniform position where executives acknowledged climate change is human-made when it became untenable to say otherwise. Oreskes and Supran also included one issue that’s caused more recent trouble for the industry than its advertising campaigns. There’s intense debate over what are known as “stranded assets,” a term used to describe assets that have become anachronisms when faced with new business realities. In this case, it is the serious risk that Exxon’s business model is overvalued and incompatible with the world taking serious action to limit global warming. Two dozen of the company’s publications and internal documents acknowledged stranded assets, but it is not mentioned in any of the ads through 2004.

Shareholders actually sued Exxon last fall over stranded assets, claiming the company was aware it would not be able to extract all its fossil fuel reserves but its public statements dismissing the risks were “materially false and misleading.” And shareholders have stepped up the pressure in other ways, too: This May, two-thirds of shareholders voted to force the company to publish an annual report on its climate impacts. The moment was a rare defiance of Exxon’s management, which opposed the report, and maybe a step toward more transparency.

Oreskes, who’s written extensively about industry campaigns to undermine scientific findings, says that Exxon’s message inevitably changes over time as it adapts to new circumstances and old positions become discredited. But Exxon is still following the same general playbook. “They are promoting a different kind of doubt,” she says. “It’s a doubt that says, ‘There’s climate change, but we have to still use fossil fuels because there’s no alternative.’” But, Oreskes adds, there are alternatives.

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Researchers took on Exxon’s dare to prove it misled the public about climate change

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Republican Congressman on Suspected Islamic Radicals: "Kill Them All"

Mother Jones

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In response to the London terror attack, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) had an extreme proposal: kill anyone suspected of being an Islamic radical.

On his campaign Faceboook page, Higgins, a former police officer, posted this message:

The free world…all of Christendom…is at war with Islamic horror. Not one penny of American treasure should be granted to any nation who harbors these heathen animals. Not a single radicalized Islamic suspect should be granted any measure of quarter. Their intended entry to the American homeland should be summarily denied. Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Hunt them, identity them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.

The post went up early on Sunday morning. On Saturday evening, suspected terrorists killed seven people during an attack on London Bridge. ISIS has claimed credit for these murders.

With his declaration that Christendom is “at war with Islamic horror,” Higgins was embracing a theme of the far right: the fight against extremist jihadists is part of a fundamental clash between Christian society and Islam. And in this Facebook post, he was calling for killing not just terrorists found guilty of heinous actions, but anyone suspected of such an act. He did not explain how the United States could determine how to identify radicalized Islamists in order to deny them entry to the United States. It was unclear whether his proposal to deny any assistance to any nation that harbors “these heathen animals” would apply to England, France, Indonesia, Spain, and other nations where jihadist cells have committed horrific acts of violence.

Higgins office refused to allow a Mother Jones reporter to speak to a spokesman for the congressman. But in an email, his spokesman confirmed the Facebook post was authentic.

In late January, Higgins delivered a fiery floor speech attacking Democrats and the “liberal media” for opposing President Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban. He declared that “radical Islamic horror has gripped the world and…unbelievably…been allowed into our own nation with wanton disregard.”

Shortly before running for Congress, Higgins resigned from his post as the public information officer of the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office, where he had earned a reputation as the “Cajun John Wayne” for his tough-talking CrimeStopper videos. Higgins abruptly quit after his boss, the sheriff, ordered him to tone down his unprofessional comments. “I repeatedly told him to stop saying things like, ‘You have no brain cells,’ or making comments that were totally disrespectful and demeaning,” the sheriff said.

“I don’t do well reined in,” Higgins noted at the time. “Although I love and respect my sheriff, I must resign.”

Update: Higgins’ campaign spokesman, Chris Comeaux, told Mother Jones in an email: “Rep. Higgins is referring to terrorists. He’s advocating for hunting down and killing all of the terrorists. This is an idea all of America & Britain should be united behind.”

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Republican Congressman on Suspected Islamic Radicals: "Kill Them All"

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The GOP Health Bill Would Make Zika the Newest Preexisting Condition

Mother Jones

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The controversial GOP health care bill that narrowly passed the House of Representatives this month could have devastating consequences for mothers and children infected with Zika, experts say. The mosquito-borne virus is just one on a nearly endless list of preexisting medical conditions—cancer, asthma, pregnancy—for which insurers could potentially charge higher premiums if Republicans get their way.

One of the most popular features of Obamacare is a provision known as “community rating,” which bars insurance from charging more for people with preexisting conditions. This was a common practice before Obamacare was enacted in 2010; stories of sick people being unable to find affordable coverage were one of the main arguments used by the legislation’s supporters. Of course, the public health crisis surrounding Zika—and the birth defects it can cause—wasn’t an issue at the time; no one in the United States had yet contracted the virus. But if the House’s Obamacare repeal bill becomes law, people with Zika could end up paying far more for their health care—and could even end up priced out of insurance entirely.

Multiple health care experts told Mother Jones that the GOP bill would almost certainly mean a host of insurance problems for both pregnant women who have had Zika and infants born with microcephaly, a condition where a child has a smaller brain and other health defects. Zika can cause a host of other birth defects and in rare cases has been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause temporary paralysis in adults. What’s more, the GOP bill cuts funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency on the front lines of the battle against the disease.

The Republican bill includes an amendment that allows states to opt out of the Obamacare community rating protection. Under the GOP plan, if a person’s health coverage were to lapse longer than 63 days in a state that opts out, that person could be charged a prohibitive cost on the private market. Short lapses in coverage are incredibly common. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 27.4 million nonelderly adults had a several-month gap in coverage in 2015. For the 6.3 million of these adults who have preexisting conditions, the costs could be significant. The liberal Center for American Progress estimated that under the GOP bill, people with even mild preexisting conditions would pay thousands more per year—a 40-year-old, for example, would likely be charged an extra $4,340 in premiums if she had asthma, or $17,320 extra if she were pregnant.

Zika was first identified in 1947 in Uganda. It didn’t emerge in Brazil until 2015, when researchers began to notice the link to a spike in birth defects. Since then, mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus have been found in almost every country in the Western Hemisphere. Zika is particularly prevalent in Latin American, but it has also appeared in the United States. There have been more than 30,000 cases confirmed in Puerto Rico, including 3,300 pregnant woman, and more than 1,000 cases in Florida. The spread of Zika has varied wildly from year to year, with cases this year down sharply from 2016.

Yet our understanding of the Zika virus and its related health problems is still evolving. In most people, the virus shows no visible symptoms or just mild problems such as aches and a fever. But it does raise the risk of microcephaly, a rare brain defect in which a child develops with an abnormally small head and brain. Microcephaly is incredibly rare in a normal pregnancy, but a Zika infection in the first trimester raises the risk to 1 to 13 percent.

Zika is linked to various health problems in infants, but microcephaly itself is an expensive medical condition. The CDC estimates it would cost an additional $1 million to $10 million in medical care over the child’s lifetime. Zika-associated microcephaly would probably cost somewhere in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in premium surcharges, according to the Center for American Progress health policy team.

Experts say that, under the Republican plan, insurers would almost certainly treat Zika as a reason to charge higher premiums.

“If it’s documented in your medical records that you had this infection and you have it now, they might well act on it,” Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Mother Jones. And if an infant was born with microcephaly, Pollitz added, “you’d have to be very careful as the parent of a child to never have a break in coverage.” Pollitz also added that the total number of Zika cases is small, but the issue could come up in medical records and be cause for insurers to “jump on that and possibly charge you a higher premium.”

In other words, insurers would be tempted to charge more based on the expensive medical costs sometimes associated with Zika, and there would be nothing preventing them from doing it. “There’s no rule about what can or cannot qualify” as a preexisting condition, New York University health care expert Sherry Glied said in an email, “and Zika will certainly raise later costs, so would count.”

David Anderson, a Duke University health policy researcher who has worked in the health insurance industry, added that another part of the GOP’s health bill—massive cuts to Medicaid spending—would add more strain to state budgets in the case of a Zika outbreak. The bill reduces Medicaid expenditures by $834 billion over the next decade, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Trump’s 2018 budget released Tuesday proposes even deeper cuts than the GOP bill. If passed, the budget would reduce Medicaid spending by $1.4 trillion over 10 years.

Anything affecting babies is a big deal for Medicaid, which covers nearly half of all births in the United States. That would cause a significant problem if Zika leads to an unexpected spike in microcephaly. “If it’s not that common, states can handle one or two isolated events,” Anderson says. “If it’s very common and there are hundreds of babies born with microcephaly under high-cost conditions, then states can’t handle it.”

The House bill would have other impacts on Zika prevention efforts. It cuts nearly $1 billion from the CDC’s budget. The CDC funds testing and research and deploys emergency teams to provide extra medical assistance and to control the spread of Zika-infected mosquitoes. The CDC fights Zika by monitoring mosquitoes that transmit the virus, and it collects data about how Zika affects pregnancies. Trump’s budget doesn’t help the situation either. Although it sets up a CDC emergency response fund to deal with outbreaks like Zika, the budget weakens prevention efforts by seeking a 17 percent cut to the CDC and an 18 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health.

The confluence of Zika and the GOP health care bill could have political consequences in places like Florida, where the virus has already proved to be a potent electoral issue. Two South Florida congressmen—GOP Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart—championed a bill last year that sent $1.1 billion to the CDC and the NIH to combat Zika. Both also voted for the Obamacare repeal bill. Neither of their offices responded to requests for comment.

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The GOP Health Bill Would Make Zika the Newest Preexisting Condition

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Friday Cat Blogging – 19 May 2017

Mother Jones

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First things first: the answer to the origin of yesterday’s lunchtime photo. It’s a picture of the neon-lit Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica Pier. It’s a 1-second exposure at night, one of several I took where I deliberately moved the camera while the shutter was open. Then I ran it through the dry brush filter in Photoshop.

And now for catblogging. Here is Hopper trying to leap from one branch to another on one of our trees. It looks touch-and-go, but it actually wasn’t. She immediately chinned herself onto the target branch, but the camera just happened to catch her mid-swing. I assure you that no cats were harmed in the making of this photo.

However, you’re all lucky I didn’t make this into some variation on “donate to Mother Jones or the cat gets it.” That would have been totally tasteless, and I’d never do that. But I could do it if I were that kind of person—and maybe I will if we don’t make the $500,000 goal for our muckraking fund to investigate the Trump-Russia connection. We’re getting close, but we’re not quite there. So donate! Read more about it here. Or go straight to the donation page here.

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Friday Cat Blogging – 19 May 2017

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The Perfect Movie for Your Earth Day Date Night

Mother Jones

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While Hollywood has been on a roll with climate change films, most of them have concentrated on the planet’s impending doom. The team behind the new French documentary Tomorrow takes a different tactic. “I discovered that showing catastrophes—explaining what is going wrong in the world—is not enough,” co-director Cyril Dion tells Mother Jones. “We also need to have energy and enthusiasm to build another future.”

It was a challenge to convince others’ of this opinion, Dion says: “Nobody believed in a positive documentary about ecology, economy, and democracy.” Instead, the Caésar-award-winning film, originally released in France in 2015, was partly crowd-funded. As French actress Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) implores in the film, “This movie is about thousands of people changing the world so we would like it to be financed by thousands of people willing to do the same.”

Over a backdrop of twee music, the upbeat Laurent and Dion serve as our tour guides into everyday communities that have taken creative steps to reduce their contribution to climate change: permaculture farming in France, urban farming in Detroit, a new democratic experiment to let Untouchables and high-caste live together in India, and a political revolution and rewritten constitution in Iceland. Despite Laurent and Dion’s earnestness to identify answers, however, viewers may find that the film does not fully address the magnitude and urgency of the situation—which small-scale, local solutions alone cannot fix.

Nonetheless, change is perhaps most powerful when it is community-driven. The most novel innovation proposed is the possibility of “local currencies” that never leave one geographic area, thus encouraging the type of localized production and consumption that the filmmakers believe to be essential to a sustainable future. The Swiss WIR, an alternative currency system that stays in Switzerland, has been a successful model for such a system since the 1930s. In the years following the 2008 recession, interest has risen in alternative currency systems insulated from the volatility of global markets. “Rather than money just pouring out of your local economy as though it were a leaky bucket, a local currency recognizes that getting money to stay in your local economy as long as it can, and be passed around as many times as possible, is of huge benefit,” Rob Hopkins, a British environmental activist featured in the film, tells Mother Jones.

By focusing on experiments already in the works, Tomorrow presents climate change as a challenge with clear remedies rather than an inevitable apocalypse.

The film opened in New York and Los Angeles on April 21.

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The Perfect Movie for Your Earth Day Date Night

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Donald Trump’s Modeling Agency Is on the Verge of Collapse, Say Industry Insiders

Mother Jones

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Donald Trump’s presidency hasn’t been good for one of his favorite businesses. The president’s modeling agency has been losing models and senior staff in recent months amid a growing backlash over his toxic politics. And the problems at Trump Model Management appear to be escalating. In interviews with Mother Jones, three industry insiders said they believe the agency could be forced to close.

The sources—two model bookers who have worked with Trump Models and another person with deep ties to the agency—attributed the firm’s sudden tailspin to the controversial president himself. The once glamorous Trump brand, they said, now appears to be tainted.

“Yeah, it’s closing,” said Virginie Deren, a model booker at the top Paris firm Premium, which co-represents a handful of models with Trump Model Management. Deren said she was given this information by a Trump booker. “It’s surprising that it’s come to that point,” she added. “It’s rough.”

Trump executives didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment for this story, but employees of the agency said this week that business is continuing as normal.

Deren said she didn’t know the precise timing of the potential closure or what might happen next for models at the agency. “For now, they haven’t really told us anything,” she said. “Of course, it’s going to take time.”

“That’s definitely happening,” said a second modeling agent who has also worked with Trump models, when asked about the potential closure. This source added that Trump staffers have approached the source’s own company looking for work. “They’re all pretty much sort of scrambling to get out,” said the source, who spoke anonymously to protect the firm where the source works. “We’ve met quite a few who’ve expressed the dismay this is happening, and their only goal is to find a new place.”

A third source—who has close ties to Trump Models—agreed that the situation at the agency is dire and that closing is a real possibility. This source requested anonymity to protect against the possibility of future legal action by the agency.

Corinne Nicolas, president of Trump Model Management, did not respond to questions from Mother Jones. Ronald Lieberman, a vice president at the Trump Organization who has previously responded to press queries about Trump Models, also did not respond to questions about the state of the modeling business. No one answered several calls to the company’s main phone line Wednesday.

Asked about the claims that the agency could soon close its doors, Michael Wildes—a New York attorney who has worked extensively with the agency, as well as with Melania Trump—told Mother Jones, “I’ve been privy to conversations, but I’m not permitted to share anything.”

Still, employees at Trump Models say their work is continuing as normal. Reached on her cellphone Tuesday, Helene Marengo, who works in the agency’s accounts department, said she was unaware of any plans to close her company. “I’m still working. I’m in my office right now, working like normal,” she said. “I have no knowledge of anything happening. As of right now, it’s business as usual.”

A woman who answered the door at the company’s Manhattan office Wednesday said that “of course” the agency remained open for new business.

Last summer, Mother Jones interviewed several foreign-born models who alleged they had worked illegally in the United States with Trump’s agency—a report that was particularly striking in light of Trump’s hawkish stance on illegal immigration. Four former Trump models told Mother Jones they worked for the agency without work visas; one said she worked for the agency for four years without a visa. Records in a lawsuit filed against Trump Model Management by a fifth former model, Alexia Palmer, indicated that she, too, worked for the company without work authorization. (The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed.)

Read Mother Jones’ original Trump Models investigation here.

Deren, the Paris booker, said agencies have recently suffered from a general downturn in the modeling business in both Paris and New York. But, she added, the problems at Trump Model Management have more to do with “the political situation”—that is, with Trump.

Since Trump’s campaign, models and their bookers have become increasingly uneasy about working with the president’s agency, said Brandon Hall, the creative director of Sutherland Models, a Toronto agency. He has co-represented roughly 10 models with Trump’s agency over the years and said he currently has about four or five models in common with the company. (Successful fashion models typically have several agents representing them in different markets around the world to book local gigs.) “I would probably be a little reluctant” to work with Trump’s agency, Hall said—adding that models themselves might be even more reluctant to sign with Trump.

One model Hall represented recently didn’t want to meet with Trump’s agents in New York, he said. “It’s just sort of what has transpired because of the election and what has arisen from that,” he said, attempting to explain the apparent aversion to Trump’s agency in the modeling world. “I’m sure he’s gained in some ways and is suffering in others. And I think in the entertainment industry and the fashion industry, among actresses, models, he’s not well liked.”

According to his most recent financial disclosures, Trump owns an 85 percent stake in the agency. He earned nearly $2 million in commissions from it in 2015. But since the election, the modeling firm he founded in 1999 has suffered from a series of staff defections, including longtime Trump agent Duane Gazi-White, who traveled the globe scouting new modeling talent at pageants and Miss Teen USA contests. He recently went to work for a Trump competitor, New York Models, as director of new faces and development. (Gazi-White did not respond to requests for comment.)

Another Trump agent, Gabriel Ruas Santos-Rocha, recently left Trump Models to set up a new modeling firm called Anti Management, which launched last month. “I did not start an agency with the intent of taking someone out of business,” Santos-Rocha told the Washington Post this week. “Outside of that I have no comments.” (Rocha wouldn’t comment for this story.)

Rocha told Refinery29, the fashion news site, that Trump models were finding it tough to stay with the company because of Trump’s brand. “The people who got the worst of it were the models; they’d arrive on set and people would say, ‘Oooh, you’re from Trump Models? How dare you,’ or ‘Why are you still with them?'” Rocha said, according to the article. “They were constantly harassed by employees on shoots, especially by other models.” Refinery29 first reported that a possible boycott among industry stylists and photographers was being discussed in early February.

Then there are the models. Katie Moore, a breakout star from New York’s Fashion Week in February 2016, and a rising talent in the modeling world, is preparing to leave Trump’s firm in search of new representation, according to Tabitha Garcia, her Texas-based agent. Garcia told Mother Jones that too many Trump agents were leaving the agency for Moore to continue her career there—the situation had become untenable. “Most of Katie’s agents have moved on to other agencies and we are exploring those options for her right now,” Garcia wrote in an email. “An agent really makes the model…That is why it is sad to have this happen.”

“I will be flying to NYC next week to meet with agencies with Katie to continue her career at another agency,” Garcia added. “The staff at Trump have been nothing but kind and amazing along our journey and I am sad that we had to make this hard decision.”

A post shared by Katie Moore (@katherineann.moore) on Apr 3, 2017 at 4:25pm PDT

Katie Moore’s Texas-based agent confirmed the star Trump model is seeking new representation.

Other top Trump models have also fled the agency. Shirley Mallmann signed on with Anti. Veteran supermodel Maggie Rizer blamed Trump’s politics when she exited the company on the eve of the November election. “As a woman, a mother, an American and a human being, I cannot wake up Wednesday morning being the least bit related to the Trump brand,” Rizer wrote on Instagram.

Trump Model Management might be a small part of the president’s business empire, but it did seem to be particularly close to his heart. It augmented his brand as a playboy, and he enjoyed cross-pollinating his other businesses with Trump models. He personally signed talent directly from his Miss Universe and Miss USA competitions. And Trump Models appeared on his reality show, The Apprentice. Melania Trump was once represented by the agency.

At the agency’s launch party in 1998, Trump issued a promise about the company, as described by New York Magazine. Flanked by his business partner and the supermodel Daniela Pestova, Trump rose for a toast. “To the richest agency,” he declared. Now that agency could become the first piece of his business empire to fall victim to his polarizing presidency.

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Donald Trump’s Modeling Agency Is on the Verge of Collapse, Say Industry Insiders

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